It's Settled: Dworshak will be
by Eric Barker
Idaho and the Nez Perce Tribe lost their bid Friday to save some of Dworshak Reservoir's cool water for adult and late migrating juvenile fall chinook.
The National Marine Fisheries Service, Oregon and Washington were unwavering in their belief that juvenile fall chinook need the water now.
The fisheries service made the decision to increase discharge at the dam to full power house capacity -- 10,000 cubic feet per second -- Friday night. When temperature readings at Lower Granite Dam, some 30 miles west of Clarkston, reach 68 degrees, discharge at Dworshak will increase to 14,000 cfs.
That will draft the reservoir to 80 feet below full pool by the end of August.
Another proposal by the fisheries service and the downriver states would have increased flows to 14,000 cubic feet per second beginning Sunday.
The state, tribe and Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission wanted Dworshak discharge to hold steady at 6,500 cfs until mid July. Doing so would have left some water to use in September when adult fall chinook are returning and some 40 percent of juvenile chinook from the Clearwater River are still migrating.
But federal and downriver fisheries biologists are concerned about rising temperatures and dropping flows in the Snake River at Lower Granite Dam. Juvenile fish there are beginning to show signs of heat stress and the number of fish passing the dam is dropping despite a record number of hatchery releases this year.
"This is not a time when you'd expect the fish passage index to be going down," said Michelle DeHart of the Fish Passage Center at Portland.
But Idaho and the tribes argued that temperatures at the dam, though high, are still tolerable and the increased flow would be barely discernible for fish.
"You can't justify, scientifically, the difference between 34,000 cfs and 40,000 cfs (at Lower Granite Dam)" said Greg Haller of the Nez Perce Tribe's water resource department.
DeHart said temperatures are poor for juveniles and using the water now will reduce them before they get out of control. She and others said conditions are bad enough that if the state had issued a dissolved gas waiver at Dworshak Reservoir the request would be for 20,000 cfs instead of 10,000.
The release of large volumes of water can cause gas to build to levels beyond the state standard of 110 percent. A waiver, if granted, would allow the agency to reach levels has high as 120 percent during drawdowns.
Jim Yost, Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's natural resource adviser, said there is no chance the waiver will be coming.
"You don't have a gas waiver from Idaho and I don't think you are going to get one with the cooperation I have been seeing."
Yost even hinted he might call Idaho Power Co. and attempt to convince officials there not to increase flows at Brownlee Reservoir. The company agreed Thursday to exceed its policy of limiting drawdowns to 1 foot a day. Beginning Tuesday, Brownlee will draw down at 1.5 feet per day for one week, an increase of about 3,000 cubic feet per second.
"I could probably convince Idaho Power that they couldn't get that done," said Yost. Steve Pettit, a fish passage specialist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston said Dworshak water likely will run out by the third week of August.
"I just think juveniles and adults migrating after the third week of August are going to be looking at very hostile conditions."
The National Marine Fisheries Service again suggested Dworshak Reservoir could be lowered 100 feet to elevation 1,500 in order to help the adults and late migrating juveniles. Both the Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho said drawing the reservoir down below 80 feet is not acceptable.
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